Reviewby Justin Sevakis
Revolutionary Girl Utena
VHS 1 - Crest of the Rose
Revolutionary Girl Utena IS one of the most revolutionary shojo series in recent memory. A pity that the dubbing studio used by Central Park Media seems to think that it's meant to attract an audience usually consumed by hours on end of "Nick Jr." on cable.
When she was a little girl, Utena Tenjou (mispronounced "Tenjuu" throughout) saw a vision of a beautiful prince, who comforted her in a time of need. She was impressed enough not to fall in love, but to idolize him to the point that she has become dead-set on becoming a prince herself. Now, as a high school student (you knew that was coming, huh?) she is even wearing boys' uniforms and her best friend Wakaba refers to her as her "boyfriend"! (She's joking, of course.)
Things change the first day of the new semester when she sees the class quiet girl Anthy Himemiya being smacked around by the student counsel vice president, Kiyoichi Saionji (mispronounced "Sayonjee" throughout), only to be stopped by president Touga Kiiryu (mispronounced "Tooga" throughout). When, the next morning, she finds her friend Wakaba's love letter to Saionji publicly posted, Utena challenges him to a duel, since he is the president of the kendo club.
What she thought was just a ring given to her by her prince instead opens up a mysterious dueling arena, and it is revealed that the student congress is a group in contact with "End of the World" to bring about apocalypse. Anthy Himemiya is known as the "Rose Bride", engaged and subservient to whoever the current sword dueling champion is... and keeper of strange pets (including Chu-Chu, a three-inch-tall pliable monkey). Of course, Utena wins the duel, resulting in all sorts of chaos from all parties involved.
Utena doesn't suffer from a tragic dub, but it comes dangerously close to being totally wrecked by an inept cast and direction staff. Anthy and Touga are fine (while Utena sounds a bit valley girl), but most of the characters are horribly miscast. Saionji, er, Sayonjee, sounds way too soft and non-threatening, while the androgynous Miki will incite memories of Ryoga from Viz's Ranma ½ dubs. (In the Japanese version, he was voiced by a woman... Aya Hisakawa, best known as Devil Hunter Yohko!).
In fact, really the only perfectly dubbed character is Chu-chu. I can't imagine an animal that can only say "Chu! Chu!" while crunching maniacally on the nearest edible item would be very tough to dub at all, but still the character's appearances make for a nice oasis in an otherwise torturous experience.
One of the more unique elements in the show are the "Shadow Play Girls", two marionettes that appear before the commercial break in every episode that foreshadow future plot twists and discuss them in a jovial manner. They were cute and fun in the Japanese version, but in the dub, all spontaneity is lost. More overacting and slow-speech totally impede the original feel of the characters. Like everyone else, all of the original spark of the characters are lost, and the result is a series that just lays there.
As for the anime itself, the art is rather undetailed; somewhat average for a television series (which, given the technological advances in other TV shows in recent years, is quickly becoming inadequate), but the story is top-notch. If you're a guy, you probably will be embarrassed to be watching something that is filled with pink frills and rotating flowers, but if you're willing to put up with that, you're in for a treat.
But the show's true saving grace is the opening theme. "Revolution!" is an amazing accomplishment as a song. Catchy to the point of addictive, it easily ranks among the openings to Vision of Escaflowne and Gundam Wing. While the symphonic tracks are not bad, the more memorable songs are from Seazer, a chorus of bizarre olden Japanese words. While catchy, I found them rather annoying at times.
See this one subtitled, even if you normally go for dubs. Or better yet, wait for the upcoming bilingual DVD. You won't be sorry.
Overall : C+
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